Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Wheels On The Class

The main requirement for the topic of these blog posts is that they must relate to academic material and learning experiences from the trip, so when I mentioned I was going to write about bus rides people were skeptical. At face value, time on the bus is wasted time. The hours spent between San Jose and Las Cruces are seen as an unavoidable cost of a program that travels, not an asset. It's time we spend sleeping, reading, or maybe working if you're ambitious, anything to make the time seem "useful". These uses, however, rob us of the ride itself; we miss the views, the traffic, the sense of distance. I believe that the experience of moving between places is essential for a complete understanding of where we are studying, and that we should be encouraged to view our bus rides as academic material.
Seeing the scenery change as we move through the country is an important first step for understanding new places. As we left San Jose several weeks ago, we climbed to over 3,000 meters of elevation, witnessing changes in climate, ecosystem, and land use. The population thinned as the clouds thickened and the temperature dropped. The forest became darker, with moss covering every tree, and the canopy lowered as slopes got steeper and higher. Invasive bamboo trees presented themselves as a frequent problem along the roadside. Plantations gave way to cattle pasture and villages became sparser. This progression reversed itself after we crested the mountains, and pineapples and corn became ubiquitous. Such drastic differences and unique environments were missed by sleeping students.
As we approached Las Cruses, our home for the next two weeks and the site of our independent projects, these out-the-window observations became more crucial. How much of the land is still forested? How frequent are the towns? How big is the hospital in San Vito? We eventually had answers for these questions given to us in lecture, but an attentive bus rider is able to understand and internalize them before even arriving at the station. The firsthand learning of driving though a place is often forgotten in favor of memorizing facts. Statistical information about demographics, land use, and the like are important, but so is the ability to feel a place and to imagine what the statistics really mean. The view from the road is the fastest way to begin to get this more complete understanding.
The journey into Las Cruces also helped give a sense of context for where we were and what it is like to live and study there. Often in the classroom or in the forest it is easy to forget where we are and where we come from. The room we're lectured in could be anywhere, and for the most part we lack the knowledge and experience to know where in the world we are when we're out in the field. To someone who fell asleep in San Jose and woke up in Las Cruces, the station and the surrounding towns could be anywhere in the world; but, someone who was awake for six hours of driving south, who made note of the mountains and the mudslides, who saw the signs for the Panamanian boarder, really knows where they are and what it takes to get there. In a lecture we can learn that we are more than 150 kilometers away from San Jose, where all the best hospitals are, but only someone who experienced the trip truly grasps what it would take to move a sick person there.
So, as break winds to a close, I know that our new academic material doesn't begin when we arrive at Palo Verde, it begins when the bus pulls out of the OTS office and we start the trek out of San Jose.

No comments: